Leaving work on Friday, I collect my bag and leave my air conditioned work area to enter the fray of market where steamy heat clings to my skin. I walk down a tree-lined avenue, taxis honking at me to ride instead of walk, towards sugu-ba (the big market) to purchase new sheets to fit my new mattress and a mosquito net. I stop for a snack at a portable vietnamese stand and watch as people narrowly avoid motorcycles and close-cutting taxis weaving in and out of traffic as they navigate their own way to market. I finish my spring-roll treat and, after following the directions of fellow shoppers and shopkeepers down this street and winding back that one, I finally find what I'm looking for.
The smell of fried dough and open sewers rise up to mix for an unwelcome aroma as I enter the shop. A discreet storefront, one of the few open ones the day after (or of, depending on when you saw the moon) Ramadan where yards of pastel fabric hang from the ceiling and pool together in a single, large, wrinkled mass on the floor. I plunk myself and work bag onto a roughly made plank bench and look around the shop which is no larger than a small, walk-in closet. I quickly see what I came here to buy: a flowing, lace-adorned pink mosquito net and light pink sheets with embroidered flowers. I ask for the net and 3 meters of the fabric to get sewn into a fitted sheet at a tailor near my home.
A man lounges on a chair outside the door and, nodding towards my bag of embroidered sheets and mosquito net scoffs, 'Pink? It's because you're a feminist.' I look back at him, puzzled, recalling the feminists I know. The shopkeeper comes back with my change and, smiling at the funny observation of the lounging man, I start the walk home as the once threatening clouds begin to pour buckets from the sky. I cringe as I miscalculate puddles and pull my shoulders in under my red umbrella while passing shopkeepers quickly covering their wares with forlorn, plastic sheets. The only colors visible in a once vibrant market are the shiny troops of families returning from greeting for Ramadan in bazin complets (a fancy type of fabric) and new, holiday sandals as they walk quickly to find shelter from the sleeting rain.
I forgo the teetering Sotramas, filled with passengers dressed for Ramadan celebrations, and decide to walk, even though it's a long way home, because the rain lets up and the afternoon is mine. I turn off to walk behind the main road where kitchen gardens line the mud paths and guards in maroon uniforms and matching caps sit in plastic lawn chairs outside villa walls. The air is decidedly cleaner only one street off the main road - fresh vegetable smells replacing the stifling odor of unfiltered exhaust. For a minute I'm transported out of Bamako and back to village where bending millet stalks and flowering okra line the paths to village rather than crumbling sidewalks and gaudy home furnishings.
I follow the rising spires of the large mosque near my home to find my way in the maze of intersecting, muddy roads. My neighborhood is characterized by large, shady trees and as I near my home I fold up my umbrella and let the rainy season breezes and afternoon sun wrap around me. Mining offices and small hotels are interspersed with tiny hardware shops, tailors and egg-sandwich stands in the area. I dodge errant soccer balls kicked by little boys in Spanish soccer jerseys and greet groups of women braiding hair outside metal lean-to beauty boutiques. I climb the tile-mosaic stairs to my apartment, gauzy net and cotton-candy pink fabric spilling out of my overflowing bags, and collapse on my couch. I turn on the ceiling fan and close my eyes as the afternoon call to prayer pours through my windows.